Millions of people turn to food banks in latest evidence of food insecurity

29 Jul

By Emily Spoor, Research Officer

New figures out today show that almost one in three people whose only income was through social security had been to a food bank in the previous year – these figures more than highlight that now is not the time to cut £20 a week from their income.  

This new evidence, collected between November 2020 and January 2021, showed that one in 12 (7%) people aged 16 and over in England, Wales and Northern Ireland had used a food bank in the previous year – representing almost three and a half million people.  

This new data from the Food and You survey shows that far too many people are being let down by the benefit system. Our social security system should protect people from being pulled into poverty and be strong enough to pull people out – but in reality the benefit system forces too many to go without essentials such as food. 

The last year has seen unprecedented levels of need for food banks 

2020/21 has been an extraordinary year, and the pandemic has directly contributed to an increased need for support from food banks. Food banks in the Trussell Trust network distributed 33% more food parcels in 2020/21 compared to 2019/20, reaching a record 2.5 million parcels. 

However, we know that this is just the tip of the iceberg. When asked about whether they had been supported by a food bank or other emergency food provider in the last 12 months 7% of people surveyed by Food and You had received support from an emergency food provider in the previous year (The survey ran from 20th November 2020 to 21st January 2021). While they are different methodologies to put this into context the State of Hunger (2021) estimated that 2.5% of households in the UK had used a food bank in 2019/20.  

Our social security system is failing to protect people from being pulled into poverty 

Our research shows that extremely low income, including from the benefit system, is a key driver of food bank use. This new data also suggests that: people in the lowest income brackets are twice as likely to have received emergency food support (17% vs. 7% overall). 

Shockingly, more than half (57%) of people who solely receive income from social security are food insecure, meaning they can’t reliably afford to eat enough food compared to 16% of all households. 

The social security system is failing to provide too many people with the income they need to afford food – and the £20 cut to Universal Credit expected in the autumn will only make this worse. 

People in poor health are more at risk of needing support 

People referred to food banks in the Trussell Trust network are three times more likely to be disabled than the UK average. Our research has consistently shown that people with health conditions are more likely to need support from a food bank.  

The new figures from Food and You reinforces this, finding that people who reported that they had a longterm health condition were more than twice as likely to be food insecure as people who did not (25% vs 11%) and three times more likely to need support from a food bank (13% vs 4%).  

As well as the problems with the benefit system that they experience, disabled people often face extra costs, such as higher housing, utilities, or transport costs, which can put them at increased risk of needing to use a food bank.  

Households with any children and larger families more likely to need support 

The last year has seen consistent challenges to UK government on levels of child poverty and the figures released today again highlight this issue. One in four (24%) people living with children were food insecure, compared to 12% in households without children. People living with children were almost twice as likely to report needing support from a food bank than households without children (11% vs 6%).  

Larger households were also more at risk of being food insecure. A quarter (24%) of households with five or more people were food insecure. This is more than twice the rate of households of two people (11%). These households were also more likely to report needing support from a food bank (11% vs 6% of households of two people).  

This is consistent with what we find in food banks in the Trussell Trust network. Parcels provided to children made up 39% of the support provided by food banks in 2020/21 were children, even though children make up only 20% of the UK population. Further, among families with children referred to a food bank in early 2020, nearly two in five (39%) had three or more children. This is nearly three times the rate in the general population, where just 14% of families with children have three or more children. 

The UK Government needs to develop a plan to end the need for food banks – this should start with not going ahead with the planned cut to Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit this autumn 

To end the need for food banks we need to ensure that our UK social security system provides everyone with enough to afford the essentials.  

This should start with making the £20 weekly increase to Universal Credit permanent and extending it to legacy benefits. This would protect the incomes of those already struggling, help disabled people (who are more likely to claim legacy benefits) to meet increase the costs they face, and provide a vital lifeline for the 5 million families who are claiming Universal Credit. 

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The State of Hunger: Our housing crisis is driving people to food banks

22 Jul

By Tom Weeks, Research Manager at the Trussell Trust

Today, as part of the State of Hunger blog series, we are exploring how issues with housing can drive people to food banks.  

With over 95,000 households living in temporary accommodation at the end of March 2021, today’s English homelessness statistics highlight the scale of the housing emergency we are facing. Despite the eviction ban (in place until the end of May 2021), in the first three months of 2021 alone over 36,500 households presented to their local council and were found to be homeless.  

People referred to food banks are at the forefront of this emergency and are far more likely to be homeless than the national average. In early 2020, one in five (20%) people referred to food banks were homeless, that is living in temporary or emergency accommodation, staying at family/friends, or sleeping rough. In the 12 months before receiving support from a food bank, three in ten people (29%) had experienced homelessness and one in eight (12%) had experienced eviction.  

Renting is also far more common amongst people referred to food banks than average. In early 2020, three-quarters (74%) of people who needed to use a food bank were renters, with a majority of them social renters. In 2019 just over one in three (37%) working age adults lived in rented accommodation.   

Issues with the benefits that renters receive for their housing costs, and deductions to these benefits because of their housing circumstances can drive them into destitution and put them at risk of needing support from a food bank.  

Homelessness can drive levels of need for food banks 

Homelessness is often caused by a fundamental lack of income. In early 2021 the main reason that one in five (20%) private renters were found to be homeless was because of rent arrears. Renters often face a toxic combination of extremely high housing costs and insecure tenancies. Food banks across the country have seen the consequences of this lack of income with year on year increases in need and a consistently large number of homeless people referred for support.  

We know that challenging life experiences such as homelessness can put people at greater risk of destitution and needing support from food banks. Homelessness can remove the support networks that people rely on or increase their living costs (for example if someone now needs to take public transport to work). Some people may also lose their job as they are unable to travel to it from their new accommodation. In the last decade, the number of households in England housed in different local authorities has increased by 315%, versus a 98% overall for the number of households in temporary accommodation. In the last decade, the number of households in England housed out of the area that they were living in has increased by 315%, versus a 98% overall for the number of households in temporary accommodation. 

Homelessness can also increase the risk of adverse health. Living in unsuitable, poor quality or overcrowded accommodation can damage peoples physical and mental health and moving area can disrupt access to established medical support. The majority (66%) of homeless people referred to food banks in early 2020 were disabled.   

Renters are being put at risk of needing support from food banks because of issues with their benefits 

For renters referred to food banks, housing costs can push them into destitution. In early 2020, over one in four (28%) households referred to food banks had housing costs at similar levels to their total household income in the last month, suggesting that they had little (if any) money left to buy other essentials. 

This is often due to issues of the adequacy of benefits. In early 2020, over one in four (28%) private rented households referred to food banks had a shortfall between their housing benefit and their housing costs. This meant they had to use the benefits meant for household essentials such as food to cover their rent. The very low levels of these core benefits means any use of them to cover rent puts people at risk of destitution.  

Many social renters face deductions from their benefits because of the removal of the spare room subsidy (commonly known as the ‘bedroom tax’). We know that this is a significant issue for people referred to food banks, reducing the amount of income overall that they have to afford essentials. State of Hunger analysis shows that in a typical local authority, 100 more households subject to the ‘bedroom tax’ increases the number of food parcels distributed by 46.  

In April 2020 the UK government made a welcome change in response to the pandemic, increasing the Local Housing Allowance rate (housing support for private renters). This is now frozen, exposing private renters to shortfalls as the real value of these benefits is eroded because of rent increases in the coming months and years.  

The UK Government needs to develop a plan to end the need for food banks – this should recognise the role that housing, and the benefit system plays in driving levels of need.  

To end the need for food banks we must ensure our UK social security system provides everyone with enough to afford the essentials. 

This should ensure that the benefits that people receive to cover their housing costs are enough, so no one is forced to choose between feeding themselves and their family and paying their rent.   

Making the £20 weekly increase to Universal Credit permanent and extending it to legacy benefits such as Employment and Support Allowance, would also give people the breathing space needed within their own budgets. 

The UK Government should develop a plan in partnership with people with lived experience of poverty, including people who have experienced homelessness. This would help identify the changes needed to the social security and housing system, to ensure everyone has a safe and secure place to call home and a sufficient level of income to afford the essentials. 

 

 

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